A Different Hate

Neil Padukone recently completed a visiting fellowship at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He is currently writing a book on the future of conflict in South Asia.


A number of recent posts on the Inside Islam blog have highlighted the rise in xenophobic attitudes towards Muslims. The latest Inside Islam Radio Show spoke with Robert Wright, who discussed the latest wave of Islamophobia in the US and the parallels it may have with the history of homophobia.

Wright argues that “playing the homophobia card is costlier than playing the Islamophobia card. Or at least, the costs are more evenly spread across the political spectrum.” While the political and religious right has often encouraged Islamophobia, it has increasingly embraced even gay rights. He cites “American Grace,” a well-researched book on religious tolerance by the social scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, who provide a ‘bridging’ explanation for tolerance. Tolerance, they argue, is basically a question of getting to know different people and collaborating with them in life and work – especially participating in activities in which goals are shared.

“People all over America knew and liked gay people [for decades] — they just didn’t realize these people were gay,” Wright says. “So by the time gays started coming out of the closet, the bridge had already been built.” In the case of Islam, Muslims in America are small in population and concentrated in certain geographic areas. So when the only experience many Americans have with Muslims is news reports about Osama bin Laden, ‘bridging’ is made that much more difficult.

In addition to homosexuals, the histories of two other religious minorities’ integration into the American mainstream are telling: some argue that Irish Catholics were accepted by an initially hostile Protestant population only by joining in the oppression of African Americans, while the relatively small number of Jews in America “became White” by following the American dream – by becoming rich!

But many Muslims face the additional challenge of race and difference in physical appearance, biases against which are often engrained into our subconscious; Nicholas Kristof mentions how ”some scholars link racial attitudes to a benefit in evolutionary times from an ability to form snap judgments about who is a likely friend and foe…There’s some evidence that the amygdala, a center in the brain for emotions, flashes a threat warning when it perceives people who look ‘different.’”

Yet another source of prejudice like Islamophobia may be mere political manipulation. As NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg pointed out, Park51 faced absolutely no opposition when it was first announced in 2008 – even earning Fox News’ endorsement. But in an election year the same figures pounced upon the initiative as foreign and nefarious; there was political leverage to gain in doing so.

While Islamophobia may stem from a lack of narratives for many Americans – i.e. a fear of the “unknown” – political agendas can make things worse.

Please leave your comments below and continue the discussion.

4 thoughts on “A Different Hate

  1. The comparison between Homophobia and Islamophobia is specious and misleading.
    Is this article a PR exercise carried out by the Saudis who Wiki leaks reveals are also funding Al Qaeda
    There never was a war between Gays and Heterosexuals that can ever be compared to the Jihad waged by militant Islamists such as the Al Qaeda.
    Nor has there ever been an articulated philosophical gospel with clear verses that demands the conversion of Non Gays under threat of death by the sword.
    To understand Islamophobia, read the Koran thoroughly.

  2. great points Neil!

    who would have thought that Islamophobia and Homophobia will be placed in a vs.’s platform one day?! 🙂

    the fact that both of them are serious issues sheds the light on the grounds they share BUT on how different each issue is addressed and labeled, in the end this alarming hate wave against an entire Faith is born from fear and the lack of knowledge to tell the difference.

    and if we were to find a civil solution for both it will definitely be consisting of a few ingredients such as acceptance, eliminating the threat factor, establishing knowledge from the valid sources and i guess simply connect back to keywords America as a country was synonyms with starting with diversity, equal opportunity and freedom of thought and religious practice.

  3. Great thought Neil! It broadens my notion about islamaphobia….. It seems like a virus spreading across the world…

  4. Nice article Neil.

    A few militant extremists can destroy the Brand of a Religion and position it completely in another light. The peaceful majority of Muslims suffer as a consequence.

    It discusses a subject people would rather not like to talk about. How followers of Islam like being compared on the same platform as Homosexuals is another point altogether.

    The real solution is that religion and identity must not be seen to be synonymous.

    We have many identities based on class, gender, profession, language, literature, science, music, morals or politics. If instead of seeing ourselves as father, son, brother, engineer, woman, American, etc., we define our identities primarily by religion, conflict will naturally follow.

    An elaboration on this can be found in the book: Identity and Violence by Amartya Sen.

    External signs of difference especially when they may be dispensed with like a Beard, Skull Cap, Brahmin’s tuft, Sikh Turban only aggravate the situation.

    In a melting pot, if you look different, think different and act different, beware – you will be melted!